County ponders change in rates

Households could see up to 10% increase in water, sewer bills

March 31, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Thousands of residents of the Freedom Area, Carroll's most populous region, could see their water and sewer bills swell by as much as 10 percent this summer.

The county commissioners are weighing a proposal that would change the method used to calculate the rates for public water and sewer service. The method, which officials called complex, was adopted in 1972.

Under the method proposed by O'Brien & Gere Engineers Inc., a Landover consulting firm, rates for moderate and high volume users -- those who use more than 10,000 gallons of water per quarter -- would jump by as much as 10 percent. Rates for the elderly and low-volume users would be reduced by a few dollars.

The county commissioners hired the engineering firm last year to examine the public utility rates. O'Brien & Gere was paid about $39,600 for the study.

"We're still looking at the consultant's report," said county Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman. "Ultimately, any change would go to public hearing as part of the budget process" for fiscal year 2001, which begins July 1.

The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 4 at Westminster High School.

Curfman said he will hold several informational meetings on the proposed rate changes next month. Nearly 7,000 households use public water, and about 7,200 households use public sewer service.

Affected areas

The majority of the county's customers live in the Freedom Area, which includes all of South Carroll and its 28,000 residents. However, the rate changes would also affect some residents of Hampstead, Pleasant Valley and Bark Hill.

The county's public utility customers have long complained about the cost of public water and sewer service. Longtime residents say they have seen their quarterly bills steadily increase.

Carolyn Fairbank, a South Carroll resident who made an unsuccessful run for commissioner in 1998 basing her campaign on water and planning issues, has said connected to the public system 21 years ago because she was told it would be less costly to hook into the public system.

She has said her family used to pay $15 a quarter but now pays about $120.

Residents who use the public system pay $1.40 per 1,000 gallons of water and $2.65 per 1,000 gallons of sewage treated.

The average household uses about 25,000 gallons of water each year, records show.

The revenue raised from the public utilities is used to cover debt service incurred by the county for capital projects. Those projects include expansion of the Freedom Water Treatment Plant, a $5 million project.

The plant has a daily capacity of 3 million gallons. The water comes from Liberty Reservoir, which Baltimore owns.

Projections

High demand on the water supply during hot, dry spells often means residents must cope with restrictions. Each of the past three years, the commissioners have banned outdoor water use in South Carroll. The situation could get worse as more people move into the Freedom Area.

By 2015, if population projections hold true, the water treatment plant will need to process 6.2 million gallons daily. Such an increase in demand would require $46 million in improvements to the water and sewer systems, according to a $70,000 engineering study by Whitman, Requardt and Associates of Baltimore.

The study suggests that new residents pay for the upgrades through fees assessed on construction.

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